IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot said Tuesday the army is working “day and night” to bolster its defenses against the Lebanon-based Hezbollah terror organization, which is improving its military capabilities.
He also accused the Iran-backed Hezbollah of violating United Nations Security Council resolutions by fielding militia units in areas from which it was supposed to withdraw.
The comments followed Israeli warnings that Iran plans to manufacture advanced missiles in Lebanon that will be deployed against the Jewish state.
“The Hezbollah terror group is breaking the UN Security Council resolutions, it maintains a military presence in the area, is holding military systems, and is improving its military capabilities,” Eisenkot said. “The IDF is working day and night against these threats to ensure readiness and deterrence.”
Under the terms of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1701 that ended fighting in the 2006 Second Lebanon War, all militias other than the Lebanese army were supposed to surrender their weapons and there were to be no armed forces other than those of UN peacekeepers south of the Litani River, a natural marker that lies roughly 29 kilometers (18 miles) from the Israeli border and parallel to it.
Hezbollah, an Iranian proxy, has held on to its weapons and made efforts to obtain advanced weaponry, a development Israel has vowed to prevent. Dozens of airstrikes on weapons convoys bound for Lebanon have been attributed to Israel by foreign media reports. It has also deployed units south of the Litani River.
“We will do everything necessary to keep Israel’s northern border quiet and safe,” Eisenkot continued. “Our challenge is to maintain the readiness, to deepen our knowledge of the enemy, to reduce its capability, and to extend as much as possible the security and civilian reality that has continued for 11 years and serves the populations on both sides of the fence.”
“I am confident in our military superiority, in the quality of the commanders and fighters, and their ability to achieve victory in a time of war and to determine a high and painful outcome for the enemy,” Eisenkot said.
Over the past year, Israel has warned repeatedly against Iranian efforts to set up weapons production facilities in Lebanon and establish a presence near the Israeli border with Syria.
The topic of Iran’s efforts to expand its military footprint into Lebanon and Syria was a key topic under discussion between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Russian President Vladimir Putin when the two leaders met in Moscow on Monday.
Speaking to reporters after the meeting Netanyahu said that he told Putin precision-guided missiles factories are currently “in the process of being built” by Iran in Lebanon.
“These missiles pose a grave threat to Israel,” Netanyahu said, adding that Israel is determined to prevent their development.
In an opinion piece published Sunday in Arabic by several Lebanese news outlets, Israel’s top military spokesman Brig. Gen. Ronen Manelis accused Hezbollah of morphing Lebanon into a branch of Iran, and of turning Lebanon into “one big missile factory.”
Hezbollah lawmaker Mohammad Raad responded, writing in Al-Hewar Al-Motamaden, one of the Lebanese blog sites where Manelis’ column was published, saying, “Israel should not be unmindful and engage itself in a war that would destroy it… Hezbollah has become today stronger and has what it takes to destroy the Israeli army.”
Eisenkot spoke at a memorial ceremony to mark 21 years since the deadliest air crash in Israel’s history, in which 73 IDF servicemen lost their lives when two aircraft collided near the northern border with Lebanon. In what is known in Israel as “the helicopter disaster,’ the two air force transport choppers collided on February 4, 1997, as they ferried troops to the security zone in southern Lebanon, which the IDF maintained at the time. The IDF pulled out of Lebanon in 2000.